‘Barnabas’: what’s in a nickname?

Fancy going down in history by your nickname! This could be quite scary. But not for Joseph from the island of Cyprus who was nicknamed ‘Barnabas’ – Acts 4:36.

St Barnabas is the only capital ‘S’ ‘Saint’ I am aware of who is known and celebrated by his nickname. How did this come about? Let’s look at what the apostles who gave him this nickname saw in him:

  1. Generosity of finances – Acts 4:36,37.
  2. Generosity of hospitality and full of courage. Barnabas goes to Saul the former persecutor of the Christians to welcome him into the Church in Jerusalem – Acts 9:26, 27.
  3. Generosity in recognising God’s grace in action. Not a ‘glass half full or glass half empty’ person but an identifier of God’s grace. Barnabas accepted the gentile converts as being true Christians – Acts 11:22-24.
  4. Generosity in ministry. Barnabas sought out Paul to join him in ministry in Antioch – Acts 11:25.
  5. Generosity and trusted leader. The Antioch Christians ask Barnabas and Paul to take their gift to the needy Christians in Judea – Acts 11:27-30.
  6. Mission hearted in evangelism. After their return from Jerusalem the Church at Antioch sent Barnabas and Paul on a missionary trip to Cyprus and southern Galatia (Acts 13 & 14).
  7. Encourager of the grace of God in people’s lives. Barnabas is sent with Paul to argue the case for full inclusion of gentile converts into the Christian family, the Church, at the Council of Jerusalem – Acts 15:1-35.
  8. A believer and doer of the gospel of the ‘second-chance’. Barnabas takes John Mark who failed to see through an earlier missionary journey, with him on a second missionary journey – Acts 12:12,25; 13:5,13; 15:36-41.
  9. Reconciler. Barnabas is reconciled with Paul – 1 Corinthians 9:6.
  10. Blessed in his ministry. The second chance that Barnabas gave to John Mark was truly used by the Holy Spirit in John Mark’s life and this was recognised in humility by Paul who asked for John Mark to come to be with him when in gaol in Rome – 2 Tim 4:11; Philemon 24; Col 4:10.

In summary, Joseph of Cyprus ‘was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith’ (Acts 11:24) and the apostles nicknamed him Barnabas, ‘son of encouragement’ – Acts 4:36.

May the sons and daughters of encouragement, the ‘Barnabases’ flourish among us.

[Preparation notes for an invitation sermon, St George’s Sorell on 12 July 2009.
June 11 is the lectionary celebration of St Barnabas, Apostle & Martyr. Bible readings: Job 29:11-16; Psalm 98; Acts 11:22-30; 13:1-3; Matthew 10:7-13]

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